Jamaica has strengthened its laws on domestic violence as the government aims to better protect victims there where there is a widespread reluctance to report such cases to authorities.
Protection orders now include harassment and property damage, and the penalty for violating a protection order has increased from US$65 to $6,450 and a potential sentence of up to one year in prison.
The spouse or parent of a person being threatened, as well as social workers and children’s advocates if they’re filing an order on behalf of a child, can now request such orders.
All these amendments were included in a bill approved by Jamaica’s Senate last month.
The government also plans to expand a hotline, open more domestic violence shelters across the island and provide special training to police.
Officials said that the hotline, which began operating in September, has dealt with more than 7,400 cases on the island of 2.8 million people. Of those cases, more than 5,200 were from females and more than 2,200 from males.
The government said a recent health survey found that four in 10 women in Jamaica “experience some form of intimate partner violence.”
This landmark move, which took effect on Monday, is expected to increase protection to domestic violence victims.
The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has welcomed Jamaica’s commitment to combating gender-based violence.
Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director, said that this action is a vital part of a broader effort needed not only in the Caribbean but globally, to lower the cycle of violence, abuse, and inequality.
Emphasising the importance of survivors being better protected and justice being served, she stressed the critical link between the health and human rights of women and girls.
The Jamaican government expects the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act, 2023 will offer victims greater protection.
Gender Affairs Minister Olivia Grange highlighted the government’s dedication to addressing domestic violence, noting the increased penalties for breaching Protection Orders.
Beyond legal measures, the Jamaican government has committed to implementing comprehensive policies to assist survivors.
This includes a gender-based violence helpline, legal support, shelters, intervention centres at police stations, and specialised training for the police force and other service providers.
The new law also broadens the range of individuals eligible to apply for a Protection Order.
This expansion includes spouses or parents of individuals at risk, as well as the Children’s Advocate, who can now apply for a Protection Order in cases where children are threatened.